shenzhen in detroit@civilla

After the Contested Innovation Symposium at the International Institute, U of M, organizers Silvia Lidtner and Irina Aristarkhova brought participants on a full day, full on tour of Detroit. We visited Civilla, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Henry Ford, and the Heidleburg project–one day, (potentially) five blog posts super tour. Today, I’m reflecting on Civilla’s practice, with an eye toward understanding what it might mean for my practice at Handshake. Continue reading

“abet” means “we are here”

Just discovered the Ethiopian girl band Yegna, who aim to address issues such as forced marriage (the Amhara region has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world), isolation and teen pregnancies to a national audience, teaching self confidence to girls and young women.

The 5-member group was formed in April, 2013 as part of the internationally funded Girl Hub scheme, which also operates in Nigeria and Rwanda. Girl Hub is a corporate initiative and the band itself is spoken of as a “brand”. The five members are: Teref Kassahun (nicknamed Melat, aged 26), Lemlem Haile Michael (Mimi, 26), Zebiba Girma (Emuye, 22), Eyerusalem Kelemework (Sara, 27) and Rahel Getu (Lemlem, 22). Watching the video for award-winning “Abet” provides a crash course in the subject positions open to young girls in Ethopia. It also shines with hope.

落地: mapping Chinese creativity

So a few brief thoughts about Innovation Week.

First, many young people want to make the world better. They inspire and encourage and constitute hope.

Second, organizers brought in musicians, dancers, and screened documentary films to round out the conversation.

Third, the idea of “smart cities” resonated. Last night at dinner, for example, friends from Dali and Yunnan told the same story–explosive housing and building construction coupled with spiraling rent increases (as much as 30% in Dali and 15% in Beijing) has meant that even the upper middle class is being pushed out of central city districts. And here’s the rub, these new and improved spaces are neither new or improved. So as in Shenzhen and Hong Kong and London, New York, LA and Tokyo, we’re looking at the ongoing construction of stratified cities which exclude young people and working class families from participating and sharing in what our societies consider to be “good”. So we need to build smarter, so to improve the quality of life of every resident. Here, Citymart’s commitment to connecting municipalities and social entrepreneurs inspires.

Fourth, Shenzhen was well represented. Three Shenzhen projects were recognized for creatively engaging a constantly shifting world. In addition to Handshake 302 (current project 白鼠笔记/ Village Hack), which was included in the segment on how art is helping us rethink the social, the Green Tomato In Library (青番茄) and the Vizdan (维吉达尼联合) projects were both recognized. Zhang Lijuan started Green Tomato in order to bring library resources into coffee shops, train stations, and other public spaces. Instead of borrowing a book from a library, members can borrow a book at their nearest coffee shop. Or, they can borrow a book at their point of departure and return it when they reach their destination. Liu Jingwen initiated Vizdan in order to open Chinese markets to Xinjiang communities. Many of these villages and towns are located on part of the Silk Road, reconnecting what socialist plans severed. Both Zhang Lijuan and Liu Jingwen are 30 something Shenzheners whose social innovations exemplify the way young Shenzhen is searching for ways to redefine the economy of special economics.

Finally, in his Keynote speech Ashoka CEO Felix Oldenburg reminded us that we may be entering a world in which change is the issue–the ability to compassionately create, respond to, and understand change may be the most important skill we teach our children.